Response to Ministers media briefing on failure to pay social grants.

Cape Town, Thursday 14 September 2023: Today, the Ministers of Social Development, Ms. Lindiwe Zulu and Communications and Digital Technologies, Mr. Mondli Gungubele, addressed members of the media and the public with the aim of providing an overview of the causes of the grant payment system outage and outline measures by both SASSA and Postbank to prevent similar events from recurring in the future.

Black Sash is disappointed that neither Minister nor the respective CEOs delivered on this. The briefing failed to outline any plan or ‘measures by both SASSA and Postbank to prevent similar events from recurring in the future’. Equally, there was no mention of how the government will mitigate the impact any future system failures will have on beneficiaries.

Postbank CEO, Ntomboxolo Mbengashe, explained the system challenges that led to the transactions of some beneficiaries culminating in ‘transaction incomplete errors’ due system’s communication timeouts. She stressed that these types of errors are common in the banking sector, and Postbank is 90% sure this will not happen again, but with any banking IT system, ‘glitches’ are unavoidable.

“We are alarmed and dismayed by these comments. Not only does it demonstrate that our own government doesn’t grasp the seriousness these system failures have on the most vulnerable, the elderly of whom are the poorest in our communities. It shows that beneficiaries must just accept that there will be delays in accessing their grant monies,” says Rachel Bukasa, Black Sash Director.

Both Ministers were at pains to issue their sincerest apologies to affected beneficiaries. While stressing that SASSA and Postbank are not failing in their mandate to pay social grants to millions of beneficiaries because the grants are still paid even when delayed. This makes their apologies hollow; it means nothing to a hungry, vulnerable, elderly person who has no money and no food to eat.

Black Sash is concerned that Postbank does not appear to have a proper grasp on how many beneficiaries were affected by this recent system failure and how many account holders still can’t access their grant monies. Initially, the Postbank communicated that 240,000 beneficiaries were affected, and today it’s in the region of 600,000.

“Our teams visited payment sites today, some an hour before the media briefing, and there are still elderly pensioners unable to access their grants,” says Bukasa.

Because Postbank is unable to give a 100% guarantee that system failures won’t happen again, Black Sash urges SASSA and Postbank to share what the plan is should it happen again and what beneficiaries should do.

“We again call on both Ministers to launch an independent investigation to probe the integrity of the grant payment system. It cannot be acceptable that we must just accept that system errors are normal,” says Bukasa.

Black Sash stresses that the Master Service Agreement (MSA) between SASSA and Postbank must be finalised and signed. This is an important mechanism needed to hold both properly accountable, especially if further technical challenges can be expected. Importantly it will outline what penalties will be imposed should there be further ‘glitches’ or risks to the integrity of the grant payment system.